Figaro Café was Le Paris Bistrot for several years. It tanked. Owner Jean Michel Sakouhi blames it on the freedom fries syndrome: the point in time after the start of the Iraq war when the French were getting drunk on anti-American condescension and Americans were pouring Bordeaux down the bidet. "Food is food. I'm not selling politics," Sakouhi frets. So he turned the restaurant into Savory 12, a mere blip on its evolutionary timeline on account of the "cease and desist" letter Sakouhi got from the owners of Savory on Abrams Road. We missed these seminal moments. We also missed the point when this "charming" and bright dining room became Figaro Café, a couple of rungs down on the status stepstool from Le Paris Bistrot to the place where burgers and pizza toil. Determined not to miss another point of significance along this progression, we organized the details of our visit on our own timeline, neatly written on several cocktail napkins.
Saturday, 7:50 p.m. We arrive at Figaro Café as walk-ins, assured by the gentleman on the other end of the Figaro phone that reservations are not necessary, unless you are a group of four or more. We are a safe group of three. We scan the dining room, a cool place (temperature-wise) with bright red and deep yellow walls. One of the golden walls contains a large, empty picture frame, squaring off a section of the textured drywall. These folks must be very proud of their wall paint, though not proud enough to put a price tag in the lower right corner of the frame, which the photos of Paris scenes have. There's not much going on inside. Only a handful of tables are taken. In fact, the staff seems to outnumber the guests. Because of diligent campaigning by one in our group, we move to the patio. Just two tables are taken: one with a couple wearing flip-flops, the other with four middle-aged men in brown loafers. We take the table next to the loafers. The men talk of Vipers and Jaguars (the cars, not the critters). One of them announces that he forgot his reading glasses, so the man sitting across the table from him holds his menu up and moves it back and forth. The man who forgot his glasses squints. They think this is very funny and laugh heartily. I need a drink. The host tells us that he will be with us shortly to take our drink orders. He deposits the menus on the table.
8:05 p.m. Still no sign of a server. No, that's not true. There's a couple of them scurrying over on the other side of the patio, dropping off drinks, picking up dishes. But none wander off to our lonely wing. This is distressing because those men are starting to talk about golf. I really need a drink. I re-enter the restaurant and ask how long it will be before someone drops by to take our order. "Immediately," I'm assured.
8:10 p.m. A busboy arrives and serves us ice water, which does nothing to relieve the stresses of golf conversation. We decide to pass the time by observing the kinds of cars the valet across the street at the Hard Rock Café has to park.
8:13 p.m. The host/manager finally shows up to take our drink order. Convinced he will be sucked down an air shaft just after he drops off our order at the bar, we load him up with appetizer and entrée orders to boot. We're horrified to realize we neglected to order dessert as he leaves us with our ice water. I note the fourth Mustang pulling into the Hard Rock valet.
8:20 p.m. Drinks arrive at the same time a Ferrari 360 Spider rolls down Routh Street. The men stop talking about golf, so I suppress the urge to chug.
8:30 p.m. One of my dining companions wonders when her soup will arrive. French onion soup. This is an odd thing to have on a patio when the temperature is 87 degrees. The question is not when, but why. I also notice all of the convertibles that pass by--be they Porsches, Beemers or Mustangs--have their tops up. Is it hotter than 87 degrees?
8:35 p.m. The men start talking about stiff joints (not the kind you light). We need drink refills fast. No one is in sight. I wander off again to track down a server, sensing the conversation may veer into prostate health. I find a busboy. He nods and mumbles. I pray my gesturing doesn't confuse him into bringing more ice water.
8:40 p.m. Our appetizers arrive, including the French onion soup. It is a fine soup, delivered in a shallow white bowl floating slices of toast tarped with gooey sheets of cheese stained amber from the broth. The broth is sweet, just slightly so, with a distinct layer of pepper. It's clean. Also in this delivery is a mozzarella salad with slices of juicy tomato shingled with stark white mozzarella drooled with pesto. The salad is fine, though the mozzarella is a little dull, most certainly not buffalo.
The appetizer we anticipate with earnestness--27 minutes' worth--arrives on a square plate that resembles a piece of toffee pottery. Into one corner is tossed a few cornichons. In another a shallow mound of capers rests, while still another holds a terrifying (if images of infant Pampers are permitted to intrude from the memory banks) smear of mustard. Slices of tomato are wedged along the edges; raw onions are scattered over the top. Pieces of tender, tasty--though not especially rich and savory--pâté are interspersed with crostinis. The crostinis are stale. Drink refills arrive.
8:50 p.m. We celebrate our one-hour anniversary at Figaro.
8:51 p.m. Our appetizer plates are removed. I watch a wide furry rump waddle into the tropical shrubbery across the street at the Hard Rock Café. Cat? Not unless it's fed a diet of radioactive Friskies. Dog? Maybe, but if it is, it is in dire need of a hip replacement. No, this must be a raccoon. But in the middle of Uptown?
9:07 p.m. Our entrées arrive. The rotisserie chicken is superb. The outside is well-seasoned and dusted with a blizzard of herbs. Inside, the flesh runs freely with juices, tender and cooked thoroughly to the bone, without any terrifying pink patches or protrusions of blood-red marrow. A side of green beans is delicious. Steak frites is much less successful. The frites are cottage fry cousins: thick, waxy wedges instead of the thin, crispy fries that most restaurants attempt to utilize. Texturally, the steak that came with the fries is good: tender and juicy, with a few parcels of steer real estate approaching silk. But the flavors are wanting. Richness was truant. This vacuum was abhorred, and raging into the void was a pronounced livery thread that seemed tightly woven through the meat.
9:30 p.m. Our check is delivered with an apology. Our drinks are comped.
Yet we return. On our second visit we park in the same lot we slipped into the night before. But this time, the Hard Rock valet stops us and says we must not park in his virtually empty lot. This is where the Hard Rock cars get funneled. So we move our car a few feet.
On this visit, a few critical questions bubble to the surface. Is Figaro's service always so lame? Have raccoons gentrified Uptown? A dead raccoon rests on the curb on Routh Street, right off the parking lot entrance. For answers to the first question, let's step inside.
The room is cool and sparsely populated (again). But there is one amusing piece of dining room energy. Phone calls appear to be handled via speakerphone. So you have this delicious atmospheric element consisting of voices screeching through a tiny speaker and a member of the Figaro staff shouting back at the thing. The service staff must have been trained in the Taco Bell pickup window brigade.
Wine is delivered on time this time. In fact, everything is delivered promptly. The plate of escargot has six divots' worth of snails, each crowned with specks of raw tomato and bedded in dark pools of butter with garlic minces. The sauce teeters woefully: too much lemon, not enough richness. Plus the escargot themselves--chewy, a little mushy--sweat off flavors.
Pizza with shrimp is dismal; a paltry application of sauce on a crust that is dry and foamy, resembling a prefab, frozen dough disc. The burger, drenched in a tangy blue cheese, is a stranger beast. We were never prompted for our desired level of doneness, so the patty arrives gray and spongy, as if it, too, was a prefab and frozen specimen.
But this isn't all bad. We got our food double-plus quick; so quick, we celebrated our one-hour Figaro Café anniversary with a hearty wave to the Hard Rock valet. 2533 McKinney Ave., 214-720-3838. Open for lunch 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Open for dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 5-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. $$-$$$
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